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Storyboard18 | In conversation with upGrad’s CEO Arjun Mohan

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upGrad aims to upgrade your CV with its online MBA for working professionals and looks at a more hybrid model of offline with online education

Storyboard18 | In conversation with upGrad’s CEO Arjun Mohan
Edtech major upGrad launched a new campaign to spotlight the importance of online MBAs in today’s competitive ecosystem. In an interview with Storyboard18, Arjun Mohan, chief executive officer - India, upGrad, talks about the new work, the trends defining online degree courses in a post-pandemic world and unlocking potential in Tier 2-3 markets.
Edited excerpts.
Tell us about upGrad’s new advertising campaign that positions its online MBA as a solution for working professionals. What is the objective of the campaign?
Over the last one year we have seen that our target group (TG) is fairly aware of our brand and it’s a good time to move into the phase 2 of our brand building and marketing, which is more about speaking about the USP of our brand and that is what this campaign is all about. We focused on upGrad MBA and used some of the insights we kept hearing from working professionals who speak to our counsellors.
Over a period we have realised they have fundamentally a few problems, which is hampering them from going for an MBA. One of them is that they don’t want to take a career break from a good job where they are getting paid well. So, we present upGrad’s online MBA where you don’t have to take a career break. That’s the message in the ad.
One change that the pandemic had brought about is the way in which people look at online education or courses as legit upgrades in qualification, which led to the subsequent boom in the edtech space. But now things have started opening up and we are going back to normalcy. How is this likely to impact your business and the way people look at online MBAs and degree courses?
Based on the feedback I am getting, we have really showcased to the working professional that online is an option which is as good as the offline mainstream option that they were always thinking about. In the last one year we have shown outcomes, transitions and we have shown them the same or superior experiences when they were coming and taking the courses online. Though, there is a smaller trend that we are seeing, that there is some level of fatigue with respect to doing everything online, so people are looking for some kind of offline interactions, social aspects, so on and so forth. And upGrad is completely open to looking at hybrid options also.
What is this hybrid model that you are looking at? Could you elaborate on this?
There are certain things that can be done very well online and there are certain aspects where offline helps, like the social aspect. People do want to meet their friends and batch mates and interact. So, what I am talking about is upGrad providing an environment to do that. It could be in the form of informal social meets, it could be meeting upGrad alumni in one of the base camps which we have across the country. So these were aspects of upGrad which were there before the pandemic and which we will bring back as and when the cities open up.
How long before online degrees become more mainstream? Because the ultimate aim of this all is a promotion or getting a good job at a good firm. So, according to your research, have people and organizations started recognizing online degrees as a more legitimate qualification?
We believe that the abysmal GER (Gross enrolment ratio) that India has today of 27 percent can only be solved by taking education online. As a developing nation, we need a GER ratio of 70 percent and we can’t build so many universities. It’s impossible in the timeline we are looking at. Hence, we have to take education online. If you go to the corporate world, the private enterprises, there is hardly anyone who differentiates between online and offline today. That’s a huge change we saw during the pandemic. None of the HRs went to offline campus to do their interviews, every single interview happened online, on zoom calls. As a result of this, people have started thinking that if I can train a person online, if I can interview a person online, if I can work online, what’s the big deal in the mode through which a person has got the degree?
What are your key markets going forward? You mentioned that there has been a major shift in the attitudes of people. How do you approach your TG or has there been a shift in the TG itself after last year?
I am seeing a good amount of shifts. Earlier online courses were very heavily tech-focused. I have seen a big shift as the product has become mainstream. We have seen a lot of non-tech folks coming in. MBA is a big focus for us and it’s pretty much 50-50 tech and non-tech. The second shift I am seeing is in tier 2 and tier 3 cities coming online.
Owing to these shifts how have your communication and marketing strategies changed?
A lot of our promotions and ads are seen by a family member and they communicate it to the actual member who comes to us later. This has resulted in us doing ads in multiple languages and we do local campaigns to ensure we reach out to TGs even in states which may not be proficient in Hindi and English languages.
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